Islam, whose name is derived from the word "salam", meaning peace, is one of the world's great ancient religions. It began in Arabia about 1400 years ago and its followers are called Muslims, which means "one who submits to the will of God."
Born in 570 A.D., Muhammad is Islam's leading prophet and his ancestry can be traced back to Ishmael, son of the biblical prophet Abraham. This is one of the many examples of Islam's close theological and historical ties to Judaism and Christianity. It also acknowledges parts of the Jewish Torah and the Christian bible and other prophets of both religions.
The two major sects of Islam are the Sunni, accounting for 83 percent of Muslims and Shi'a, accounting for 16 percent. One in five of the world's people are adherents and contrary to popular belief, only an estimated 25 percent are of Arab descent. The largest number of Islam's followers are concentrated in South Asia, followed by Africa. It ranks as the second largest religion in Belgium, France, Germany, and the U.S., and is considered the fastest growing worldwide. Currently, the U.S. is home to an estimated 2 percent or 5 million Muslims.
The Quran is the sacred book of Islam and the source for all doctrine and ethics. It is also a guidebook to practices and proper living for every Muslim. Its basic theme is the relationship between God and humankind, but it also provides guidelines for a just society, proper human conduct and an equitable economic system. The Quran covers basic human rights and laws for safeguarding the rights of women and minorities, and makes strong references to unity and the oneness of all humanity.
As a faith, Islam provides rules of law that govern family life, law and order, ethics, dress, religious observances, etc. Islam's appeal in diverse societies and cultures means there are varying interpretations of religious laws. For example, the custom of women wearing veils varies from country to country. There are however core basic principles that are adhered to by Muslims around the world. The "five pillars" of faith, as they are called, are the moral codes of Islam.
- The first pillar, shahadah is the profession of faith which Muslims repeat several times a day to remind themselves of God's central position in their lives.
- The second pillar is salah or ritual worship. Muslims are required to pray normally five times a day--at dawn, midday, afternoon, evening and night.
- The third pillar is sawn or fasting, during the month of Ramadan.
- The fourth pillar is almsgiving, also called zakat. Muslims pay a specific amount of money each year to assist the poor and sick.
- The fifth pillar is the haj, or pilgrimage to Mecca (one of the oldest cities in Arabia and an important commercial route in pre-Islamic times) at least once in a lifetime if physically and financially able to do so.
Links and Resources
- Muslim Women's League
- Islam for Today
- International Institute of Islamic Thought
- Islam Today: A Short Introduction to the Muslim World, by Akbar S. Ahmed
- Islam, Gender and Social Change, by Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad et al
- The Oxford History of Islam, by John L. Esposito